Category Archives: Trinity

Baptism references

A recent discussion prompted me to think again of some posts I did on baptism. My friend was emphatically saying something like we all know baptism isn’t necessary, etc, etc. I know very well how deep that thinking goes for many Protestants, and the context of the discussion wasn’t good for challenging assumptions, so I just let it be, but I know now that baptism is necessary. I also believe that God works with people where they are, and that one’s conscience is fundamental, so I’m not particularly worried. Still, it’s good to refresh one’s memory from Holy Scripture and be ready for possible future discussions.

This post was originally publish April 26, 2011.

Sermon of St. John the Baptist, Pieter Bruegel the Elder 1566

The following citations come from the English Standard Version (ESV) translation. The purpose of this list, for me at least, is to gather in one place as many of the scriptural references on baptism as I can so that I might begin to understand the place and meaning of baptism in the life of faith. If I have missed any biblical references, whether directly mentioning baptism or whether pointing to baptism metaphorically or symbolically, please let me know.

John baptizes:
In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:1-2)

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. (Mark 1:4-5)

And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Luke 3:3)

Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. (Matthew 3:5-6)

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Matthew 3:7)

He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. (Luke 3:7-8a)

John points to Jesus:
“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Matthew 3:11)

“I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:8)

As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. (Luke 3:15-16)

They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” (John 1:25-27)

Jesus gets baptized:
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17)

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:9-11)

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:21-22)

“I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:33-34)

Jesus baptizes:
After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized (for John had not yet been put in prison). (John 3:22-24)

Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” (John 3:25-26)

The nature of John’s baptism?
“The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?'” (Matthew 21:25)

“Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.” (Mark 11:30)

He answered them, “I also will ask you a question. Now tell me, was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?” (Luke 20:3-4)

Jesus’ teaching on (or related to) baptism:
Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized . . .” (Mark 10:38-39)

“I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” (When all the people heard this, and the tax collectors too, they declared God just, having been baptized with the baptism of John, but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.) (Luke 7:28-30)

“I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” (Luke 12:49-51)

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:15-16)

And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” (Acts 1:4-5)

Baptism in the first generation church:
“. . . beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” (Acts 1:22)

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:37-40)

So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:41)

But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. (Acts 8:12-13)

Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. (Acts 8:14-16)

And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. (Acts 8:36-39)

So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened. (Acts 9:17-19)

“. . . you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed” (Acts 10:37)

“Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. (Acts 10:47-48a)

“And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'” (Acts 11:16)

“Before his coming, John had proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel.” (Acts 13:24)

The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” (Acts 16:14b-15a)

Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized. (Acts 18:8)

He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. (Acts 18:25)

And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. (Acts 19:3-6)

And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name. (Acts 22:16)

Paul on baptism:
By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:2-4)

Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Corinthians 1:13-17)

For I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. (1 Corinthians 10:1-4a)

For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:13)

Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf? (1 Corinthians 15:29)

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (Galatians 3:27)

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6)

In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. (Colossians 2:11-12)

Peter on baptism:
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. (1 Peter 3:18-22)

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a shift of being

Commenting on the early use of the Christian creeds, namely the proto-apostles creed, with which the initiate (the one being baptized) would three times renounce the devil (“I renounce the devil, his service, and his works”) and three times proclaim belief in God (I believe in God the Father, I believe in God the Son, and I believe in God the Holy Spirit), and then go under the water three times (“die” three times) and come up from the water three times (“resurrect” three times), Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) wrote in his Introduction to Christianity:

[F]aith is located in the act of conversion, in the turn of one’s being from worship of the visible and practicable to trust in the invisible. The phrase “I believe” could here be literally translated by “I hand myself over to”, “I assent to”. In the sense of the Creed, and by origin, faith is not a recitation of doctrines, an acceptance of theories about things of which in themselves one knows nothing and therefore asserts something all the  louder; it signifies an all-encompassing movement of human existence; to use Heidegger’s language, one could say that it signifies and “about-turn” by the whole person that from then on constantly structures one’s existence. In the procedure of the threefold renunciation and the threefold assent, linked as it is with the thrice-repeated symbolization of resurrection to new life, the true nature of faith or belief is clearly illustrated: it is a conversion, an about-turn, a shift of being. (p. 88)

Work cited:
Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal. Introduction to Christianity. Trans. J. R. Foster. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004. (Note: First published in German in 1968)

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“…as a mystery of infinite love…”

From Verbum Domini:

From “God in dialogue”

[W]e would not yet sufficiently grasp the message of the Prologue of Saint John if we stopped at the fact that God enters into loving communion with us. In reality, the Word of God, through whom “all things were made” (Jn 1:3) and who “became flesh” (Jn 1:14), is the same Word who is “in the beginning” (Jn 1:1). If we realize that this is an allusion to the beginning of the book of Genesis (cf. Gen 1:1), we find ourselves faced with a beginning which is absolute and which speaks to us of the inner life of God. The Johannine Prologue makes us realize that the Logos is truly eternal, and from eternity is himself God. God was never without his Logos. The Word exists before creation. Consequently at the heart of the divine life there is communion, there is absolute gift. “God is love” (1 Jn 4:16), as the same Apostle tells us elsewhere, thus pointing to “the Christian image of God and the resulting image of mankind and its destiny”. God makes himself known to us as a mystery of infinite love in which the Father eternally utters his Word in the Holy Spirit. Consequently the Word, who from the beginning is with God and is God, reveals God himself in the dialogue of love between the divine persons, and invites us to share in that love. Created in the image and likeness of the God who is love, we can thus understand ourselves only in accepting the Word and in docility to the work of the Holy Spirit.

Pope Benedict XVI writing about the The Twelfth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which met in the Vatican from 5-26 October 2008, and had as its theme: “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church.”

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>Can you ask the question?

>

I have a beef with mainstream Christianity.


I am going to try to make a point here, but I fear my concerns may be just that, my fears only and belonging to no one else. But here goes…

Possibly the great doctrinal sacred cow in all of Christendom is the doctrine of the Trinity, or more truthfully, the theological formula that apparently secures the divinity of Jesus: The incarnate fully god/fully man, existing before all of creation person, entering into that creation with humility, Son of the Father God, and understood as the second person of a single but triune god (Father, Son, Holy Spirit). For most Christians the Trinity is a given, an unquestioned if not fully understood (or understandable) doctrine. Could it be that this doctrine, this interpretation of scripture we have held so inviolate since A.D. 325 might be wrong? Is it okay to ask this question without immediately being condemned to the fires – or at least without being in dire need of intercessory prayer, a laying on of hands?

That may be the real crux: Can you seriously, legitimately ask the question?

For the most part, if you have grown up in Christendom you have grown up with the doctrine of the Trinity. The doctrine has been used extensively to support numerous other positions (e.g. we can know God is a relational being because He exists as a relationship). In fact, at times it seems that much of Christian theology rests upon this powerful doctrine. The truth is, I really don’t have any particular need to disbelieve the doctrine of the Trinity, unless it is actually wrong. But I will assume the freedom to ask the question.

It is a well know fact that the doctrine of the Trinity was invented within the context of a rather large church squabble and was then formulated as a solution at one of the great church councils. The need for a solution was political as much as anything else. Constantine was trying to hold his empire together and saw the Christian church as one element of the glue. The philosophical questions being asked were primarily Greek (not Hebrew) in origin. The arguments were more like legal arguments than sound biblical exegesis. The final decision was made with direct help/guidance from the emperor himself. All of that makes me suspicious. Regardless, my concern is this: Do we truly have the freedom to ask the question? Can one say, “I have my doubts whether the doctrine of the Trinity is biblically sound” and not be seen as having fallen away from the faith? Maybe more importantly, can a pastor get up in front of his congregation and say he has his doubts without losing his job? Can a Sunday school teacher encourage her “flock” to value questioning such doctrines as a means to spiritual growth?


Some will wonder why in the world would one even bother to ask such a question. If not outright heretical it would seem to be at least pointless. Maybe I am making a mountain out of a molehill. What value, what improvement to one’s faith could it possibly produce? There are two: a) If the doctrine of the Trinity is true then by asking the question (with the full implication that one might discover it is not true and have to face the consequences) one gains a finer and more substantial understanding of that truth, and b) If it is not true then one has a chance of coming to the truth. I know, however, that within mainstream Christianity both of those possibilities are generally squelched or cut off altogether.

By calling the doctrine of the Trinity a sacred cow I am calling attention to a reality of Christendom that some doctrines are not allow to be genuinely questioned. I recognize the fact that there are some traditions within the history of Christianity that do not hold to the doctrine of the Trinity, and there are also always exceptions. (Someone is bound to comment that they have always been free to ask such questions within their church.) But, in general, to seriously pose the question, to say one thinks the doctrine may be a misinterpretation of scripture, is to court a real or symbolic tossing out from one’s local church – or, at least from ministry in that “body.” Christendom has thrived on dogma and conformism, and has suffered because of it. To challenge the unchallengeable doctrine is to court danger. To challenge the doctrine of the Trinity is to challenge the traditional understanding of the divinity of Jesus: no Trinity no divinity. Hence the tossing. If follows then: Christendom also does not allow questioning of the traditional understanding of the Son of Man’s divinity, but that’s another question.

Now I am only using the possibility of questioning the validity of the Trinity somewhat rhetorically. I am in the process of asking the question and doing some research, and I do have my doubts as you might have guessed, but there are many such questions waiting to be asked. My desire is to keep pursuing the truth and letting that truth guide me. Though I am still firmly a Christian (God willing) I was fortunate to escape from some of the mainstream clutches more than twenty years ago. I have been “in process” ever since. And though I am not a liberal Christian, I am not a conservative one either. I believe, in fact, that my faith has matured and my understanding deepened. (I could be deluded too.) The biggest factor in both the escape and the subsequent maturity in faith was the freedom to ask questions without social fear (though maybe a little personal trembling). This came about by my finding a community of believers who gave me that freedom. I wrote a little about that here.

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